In this frenetic and nerve fraying moment in history when everything seems to be unraveling and at a quickening pace, it’s a deep breath, a cool breeze, a calming moment that is called for to help soothe anxieties, decompress, and recalibrate the mind onto the most important things in life. Lucky for you, the new album from Royce Johns fits this very profile.
Called Thank Ya Kindly, it takes inspirations from the neotraditional country that this Iowa-based musician’s previous works entail. But the album also finds that moment in country history when a bit more of the folk and songwriting influences crept into the Countrypolitan sound of the late ’60s and ’70s, enhancing songs with strong poetic notions reminiscent of artists such as Roger Miller, Tom T. Hall, and John Prine.
Your first inclination is to flip this record over and check the copyright date, because it feels a half century old, in the best of ways of course. Not just the sounds, music, and approach, but the temperament of Royce Johns’ calming and articulate delivery really make you savor the words and hang on them intently to absorb their meaning in full.
Like so much of the best country music, Thank Ya Kindly says prophetic things, but in very simple ways. It’s not that the philosophies these songs forward are novel. It’s how they remind you of things you already knew, affirming them in a way that never feels preachy, and your heart is welcoming to.
Thank Ya Kindly was recorded in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, and solicited the services of Grammy-winning producer Ben Tanner, along with well-regarded recording artist Caleb Elliot. While still sounding pleasantly simple and understated, the songs are enhanced with strings and horns to give them a fulfilling sound familiar to the time period they look to evoke.
And even though the underlying message of Thank Ya Kindly is to be kind to yourself and everyone else—and to choose to see the better in people and yearn for understanding and forgiveness—the final two songs are a bit more fun and lighthearted, including a vampire tale, and another about a moonshiner rendered in boogie woogie style, calling to mind Jerry Lee Lewis’s country era.
Thank Ya Kindly also goes down real easy. It immediately appeals to your throwback country sensibilities, while all ten songs come in at short run times, making for an album that is effortless to indulge in.
The end of one year and the beginning of another is a great opportunity to reassess your priorities and perspectives in life, and zero in on the things that really matter. Good country music is enjoyable to listen to and helps pass the time. Great country music does the same, but also enhances your life in other little ways that last well after the last note sounds. Royce Johns’ Thank Ya Kindly is great country music.
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